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The Passover Seder
Taking place the first 2 nights of the 8 day holiday, the Seder is the most important event in the Passover celebration. Usually gathering the whole family and friends together, the Seder is steeped in long held traditions and customs.
Leading up to the first night of Passover, the home is cleaned and cleared of all yeast foods, called hametz. All hametz is either eaten before Passover begins or "sold" to non-Jewish neighbors and friends . The rules surrounding Passover are strict and many, with only special foods, utensils, and dishware allowed.
Kitchen utensils and dishware normally used in the home are not be used during Passover. Special dishes and utensils for the Passover holiday are taken out of storage, cleaned and used. Only foods that are "Kosher for Passover" are allowed. No leavened (containing yeast) foods or grains are eaten. In their place matzoh and foods containing matzoh are eaten.
This is to commemorate the Israelites who fled quickly into the desert with no time for their breads to rise and were forced to bake the dough into hard crackers in the desert sun. All foods prohibited during Passover must be disposed of the morning of the first night of Passover.
With its Passover dishware and silverware, the Seder table is different than the regular dinner table. The centerpiece of which is the Seder plate, a special plate containing the 5 foods that remind us of the struggle of the Israelites in their quest and journey to freedom.Three pieces of matzoh are placed in a Matzoh Cover (a cloth sleeve or envelope) and placed in the center of the Seder table.
Before the meal begins the middle matzoh is removed and broken in half. One half is returned to the Matzoh Cover, the other - the Afikomen - is hidden, to be hunted by the children at the end of the Seder meal. The child who finds the Afikomen wins a special prize. Some homes break the Afikomen in to many pieces assuring that each child present can find a piece and receive a prize.
The Seder plate contains foods that have special meaning for this holiday
- Haroseth - A mixture of chopped walnuts, wine, cinnamon and apples that represents the mortar the Jewish slaves used to assemble the Pharaoh's bricks
- Parsley (dipped in salt water) - Symbolizing Springtime, it is dipped in salt water to remind us of for the tears of the Jewish slaves
- Egg - Another symbol of Spring
- Shank Bone - Symbolic of the sacrificial lamb offering, the bone can come from whatever the family is eating, such as the leg bone of a roasted turkey
- Bitter herbs - Freshly grated horseradish reflects the bitter affliction of slavery
During the Seder 4 glasses of wine are poured to represent the 4 stages of the exodus:
A fifth cup of wine is poured and placed on the Seder table. This is the Cup of Elijah, an offering for the Prophet Elijah. During the Seder the door to the home is opened to invite the prophet Elijah in. After the meal is eaten, the children search for the Afikomen. The Seder is finished when the children have found the Afikomen and everyone has eaten a piece.
After a second cup of wine is poured, The youngest of the children present asks the four questions (these are in the haggadah) and the adults answer in unison:
The 1st question: Why does this night differ from all other nights? For on all other nights we eat either leavened or unleavened bread; why on this night only unleavened bread?
The answer: To remind us of the Exodus when our ancestors didn't have the time to bake their bread, and baked it in the hot desert until it was hard. No time to allow the yeast to rise either, so it was flat.
The 2nd question: On all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs; why on this night only bitter herbs?
The answer: To remind us of the bitter, cruel way our ancestors were treated in slavery.
The 3rd question: On all other nights we need not dip our herbs even once; why on this night must we dip them twice?
The answer: We dip our food into Haroset (a mixture of apples, wine and nuts) to remind us of the hard work our forebears did while building the Pharoh's buildings. The mixture resembles mortar. And we dip our greens (reminder of spring) into salt water, to remind us of the tears that were shed by the Jewish slaves.
The 4th question: On all other nights we eat either sitting up or reclining; why on this night do we all recline?
The answer: To be comfortable, and to remind us that once we were slaves, and now we are free.
The Sedar is in remembrance to the hardships our ancestors faced in slavery, and has been celebrated ever since they were free from the slavery.